Words by Maggie Parker.
A Delta airline passenger had a “dehumanising” experience when forced to either sit in faeces or miss his flight.
Matthew Meehan was on the last flight from Atlanta to Miami on Nov. 1, when he realised the plane hadn’t been cleaned properly. But what he thought would be just another stinky flight turned out to be much worse.
“I sit in my seat and I immediately smell something, and I thought, ‘Not another flight that smells bad,’” Meehan tells Yahoo’s American outlet.
And he wasn’t the only one who noticed. “I realised the person next to me also had their nose covered,” he says. “And then I went to take my charger out, bent down completely to charge my phone and realised it’s not just a smell, it’s actually faeces and it’s all over the back of my legs, it’s all over the floor, all over the wall of the plane. And I sat in it,” he recalls.
He and his seatmate went to the front of the plane to notify the flight crew.
As if the excrement weren’t shocking enough, what was even more surprising was the response they got. “The flight crew said, ‘Are you kidding me? We turned that in. I can’t believe they didn’t clean it.’ They knew it was there,” Meehan says.
Meehan knows for a fact that Delta planes are required to have a biohazard kit onboard for situations like this.
“The Delta representative that spoke with me after the fact told me their protocol is to have a biohazard kit onboard,” he says. “The fact that they either didn’t take it down and offer me something from it to clean myself properly or it was absent completely from the plane broke protocol either way,” Meehan says. “They said they didn’t have one.”
Instead of calling the gate and asking for sanitising products, Meehan alleges the flight attendant gave him two paper towels and a bottle of gin to clean himself with in the lavatory. “She wanted me to clean myself with regular alcohol, drinking alcohol,” he says.
At this point, Meehan wasn’t sure where the diarrhea had come from — dog or human; he just wanted it off him.
“We didn’t know if it was a person who’d gotten sick, an animal who’d gotten sick. … Originally, the flight crew said that it was a German shepherd. And then the gate agent said in his paperwork that it was an older man who got sick upon landing. And now Delta Corporate is saying that it was a golden retriever puppy,” he says. “But to me, it doesn’t matter. It’s feces; it carries disease any way you look at it.”
So, Meehan took the meager cleaning materials into the bathroom hoping that when he came out, his seat would be cleaned.
“It got all over my bare ankles,” he says. “They didn’t give me gloves. I had to take my pants off because it’s on the back of my pants, so faeces, at this point, is transferring to my hands, with no kind of sanitizing solution to be able to clean anything with, and only one tiny bottle of gin.”
When he exited from the bathroom, to his surprise, they were still boarding as if there weren’t excrement coating parts of the plane.
The Delta representative also told Meehan that “Delta broke protocol in continuing the boarding process once the biohazard was identified and reported” by him.
“Once a passenger brings a contagion or biohazard to staff’s attention, you’re supposed to stop boarding entirely,” Meehan says he was told. “And you’re supposed to deboard if possible so that the contagion or biohazard can be properly cleaned without spreading or contaminating others. But they just kept boarding the plane.”
Yahoo asked Delta about its specific protocol for dealing with contagions but has not yet received a response with that information.
When Meehan asked the flight crew for an update, he alleges they said, “If they didn’t clean, that’s not our responsibility, someone from the gate needs to take care of that. We are in the middle of an active boarding. We’re busy. If you want, you can get off the plane and talk to somebody.” So he did.
The gate agent called a manager, who Meehan described as confrontational, while he was trying to remain calm and “not get kicked off the plane.” “I tell her what happened and she said, ‘If the cleaning crew didn’t do their job, that’s not my problem. What do you want me to do about it?’”
Meehan alleges. “Very confrontational, like, so what? So I said, ‘Can we get that cleaned up so I can sit down?’ So she says, ‘Sir, it’s almost time for that plane to leave. You can sit in your seat or you can be left behind.’”
Meehan and the manager realised he wasn’t the only passenger upset about this. “At that point, four or five other passengers had gotten up and out of their seats as well, standing at the flight attendant area in front in protest and wouldn’t sit until it was cleaned,” he says.
To avoid causing a commotion, the manager had someone clean that area with paper towels. “To my knowledge, they did not use any kind of sanitising solution, and I was supposed to be OK with that because she quote unquote, cleaned it.”
In situations like these, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends staff “remove any visible contamination and clean and disinfect the area with products approved by your company.”
After the flight, the CDC instructs staff to “notify cleaning crew of areas contaminated with diarrhea, vomit, blood, or other body fluids, needing more than routine cleaning or possible removal.”
Meehan tried one more time to ask for the area to be sanitised, but he got the same answer: “She said, ‘We are pushing this plane back, you can either sit in your seat or you can stay behind.’” Meehan had to be somewhere the next morning and this was the only flight that could get him there in time. So he had no choice but to “fester in faeces for two hours.”
“It felt like I was an animal tied up, forced to lay in their own faeces that you see sometimes in PETA videos,” he says. “It was dehumanising to be spoken to like that, demanded to sit in a seat full of faeces with no care. They care more about getting a plane out on time than the safety and health of the passengers on the plane.”
Since the flight was oversold, he didn’t even have the option of sitting elsewhere. “So we sat there during the entire flight, my row, the rows around me, it still smelled horrific. There was still faeces caked into the carpet.” They asked for blankets and covered the seats and floors to try to protect themselves from “contact with the excrements.”
Meehan took this story to social media, and local news outlets have since picked it up. Delta has addressed the issue, as well.
In a statement to Yahoo, Delta said:
“On Nov. 1, an aircraft operating flight 1949 from Atlanta to Miami was boarded before cleaning was completed following an incident from a previous flight with an ill service animal. Delta apologizes [sic] to customers impacted by the incident and has reached out to make it right, offering a refund and additional compensation. The safety and health of our customers and employees is our top priority, and we are conducting a full investigation while following up with the right teams to prevent this from happening again.”
Delta also stated that the aircraft was taken out of service to be “deep cleaned and disinfected” upon landing in Miami.
The airline offered Meehan 50,000 miles in compensation. “That’s what I’m worth to them? 50,000 miles? After putting my health at risk along with everyone else on the plane? That’s what people get for signing up for a credit card. It’s not even enough for a flight,” he points out.
“Their offer was insult to injury. I wanted to know definitively if it was an animal or person, if it was sick, had they gone to a doctor, why was it diarrhea? What was it? Do I need to go get hepatitis shots? Do I need to get inoculated? And they won’t give me the answers.”
Meehan said he would have appreciated a heartfelt, genuine response, but instead got a scripted, corporate “here’s 50K, now go away.”
That interaction happened last Friday afternoon, and he hasn’t heard from Delta since, he says. “I’m a diamond medallion and a million miler,” Meehan says. “If this is how they treat their top tier, I can’t even imagine how they treat people who aren’t part of the SkyMiles program.”
He may take legal action. “I am waiting for Delta to give me the answers I’ve asked for and to make things right,” he says. “If they don’t, I will absolutely take action.”
After landing in Miami, Meehan was supposed to then fly to Tampa, but says he took a four-hour Uber instead. “I’m just not ready to get back on a plane.”
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